LAHORE, Dec 30: South Asia, the most volatile region, mourned the murder of 25 media persons, with Pakistan again remaining on the top with its 13 journalists losing their lives during 2012.
This has been stated in the South Asia Media Commission’s (SAMC) Media Monitor 2012 report which was made public by the body’s Secretary General M Ziauddin here on Sunday.
The report was simultaneously launched in all eight countries of South Asia. The launch, attended by senior journalists from all the four provinces and the tribal areas of the country, coincided with annual meeting of Media Commission-Pakistan, the local chapter of the SAMC.
According to the report, five journalists were killed in India, three in Bangladesh and two each in Nepal and Afghanistan.
Though luckily no journalist was killed in Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives, media persons there continued to face professional challenges and hazards.
The media also came under scrutiny for laxity in professionalism in achieving accuracy and being unbiased.
Despite the UN Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1738 in 2006, which stressed the need to protect journalists in dangerous areas, violence against them, their physical security remained a major issue and one of the biggest threats to freedom of expression in most of South Asia.
Those killed in Pakistan included Saqib Khan, Ummat, (Karachi), Rehmatullah Abid, Dunya News, (Pujngor), Mushtaq Khand, Dharti Television Network, (Mehran, Khairpur, Sindh), Abdul Haq Baloch, ARY Television, (Khuzdar), Abdul Qadir Hajizai, Wash TV (Quetta), Razzaq Gul, Express News TV, (Turbat), Mukarram Khan Aatif, Freelance, (Shabqadar), Mohammad Amir, ARY News (Peshawar), Aurangzeb Tunio, Kawaish Television Network, (Lalu Ranwak) Tariq Kamal, reporter for a local Sindhi newspaper (Karachi), Syed Tariq Hussain (Karachi), Aslam Raja (Karachi) and Jamshed Kharal (Quetta).
The report said journalists in Pakistan faced pressures from all sides. Historically, it was the state power which curbed freedom of speech and attacked journalists. Now journalists are under attack from non-state actors also. Press freedom has made journalists more audacious in performing their job which, in turn, has also made them a very threatened lot. Killings with impunity aside, there have been various incidents of attacks on media houses and threats and violence against media persons with perpetrators remaining unscathed. There have also been reports of journalists sustaining injuries in protests and bomb blasts.
Violent protests that erupted against the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims" in September took a heavy toll on media professionals in Pakistan. One media worker was killed and many others were injured as they covered the protests that turned violent in many cities of the country. Journalists were beaten and dragged by protesters who complained that they were not being given proper coverage.
Other than the physical threats, the pressures on the media are tremendous, the repot says.
It says the ban on YouTube in Pakistan imposed on September 17 was meant to pacify incensed emotions following the release of the anti-Islam film. The knee jerk reaction served no purpose other than keeping citizens barred from accessing the service and using it for knowledge, it says, adding several proxy websites that allow users to bypass the ban soared following the imposition of curb.
It says a URL filtering and blocking system proposed earlier in the year by IT ministry, if approved, will act like an online ‘Big Brother’, blocking out content at the URL level, somewhat similar to the firewall used by China.
To ensure a free and fair space for public discourse, the report suggests a participatory approach in drafting cyber laws. It also urges defining of the terms like “blasphemy,” “morality” and “national security”.
The report also mentioned with concern several restraining orders handed down to the media against airing criticism of the judiciary.
It deplores the government’s failure to introduce a reformed Access to Information law and repeal of other laws and regulations hampering media freedom. It terms the draft law to be presented in the Punjab Assembly quite prohibitive and unacceptable to the media and the people.
It also mentions federal government’s inability to deregulate the corporations running the state-owned media – Radio Pakistan, Pakistan Television. They have to be made autonomous and genuine public service outlets before the elections, it demanded.
It says journalists in Pakistan do not enjoy economic freedom, with owners holding strong sway over content and the marketing staff deciding the editorial content in many media houses. Most journalists work against inadequate salaries and have contractual jobs, it points out, saying these factors, too, undermined press freedom.
It lauds media in Pakistan for carrying out its public watchdog functions Energetically, saying some negative trends must, however, be highlighted.
About electronic media, it says a lot of analysis by TV anchors is without any research backing it, suggesting the media organisations must get used to hiring experts instead of using non-expert political figures simply to save money.
The TV channels and the Urdu press have still to discuss the problem of terrorism in a balanced manner, the report points out.
Despite ample empirical evidence and daily violence against innocent people, worship places, schools, markets and most sensitive security installations, many media persons tend to obfuscate the reality with their speculative presentations and portrayal and conspiracy theories, it says.
Isolationism while discussing foreign policy and internal events with international effect like the Malala Yousafzai affair was allowed to be confused with farfetched erroneous linkages to the war on terror, the report says. A moral, social and political consensus needed on such occasions was thus undermined and the Taliban, who accepted the responsibility for the ghastly act, were allowed to run away with their incorrigible standpoint despite a heavy moral loss of the militant outfit, it adds. Even the role of UN was cast in a bad light by some of the discussants, it regrets.